Single-Winner Plurality Elections


At the national level, the United States follows a single-winner plurality system, which permits candidates to win elections with less than majority support. In single-winner plurality elections, voters select their preferred candidates for each seat listed on the ballot. After the votes are tallied, the person who received the most votes is declared the winner of the election, even if they receive less than the majority of the vote. Single-winner plurality voting disadvantages women at nearly every stage of the electoral process, and the evidence is as follows: 

  1. Single-winner plurality elections protect incumbents and disadvantage challengers. In single-winner systems, district lines decide the outcome of elections years before Election Day. And more than 80% of all Congressional districts are safe for the parties that hold them. Women, who already fare best in open-seat races, are even less likely to win as challengers in noncompetitive races. 
  2. Single-winner plurality elections are prone to a "spoiler effect," in which similar candidates run and split the vote within a district. The system incentivizes party leaders to ask candidates -- and particularly women of color -- to "wait their turn," rather than run against a preferred candidate and risk splitting the vote. 
  3. Single-winner plurality elections foster negative campaigning, which is both costly and inhospitable to women considering a run for office. Recent research suggests that women are often deterred from running for office due to the prevalence of negative campaigning in single-winner plurality systems. 
  4. Single-winner plurality elections are subject to expensive, low turnout runoffs in the event of a close race. Systems that do not include automatic runoff elections create longer and more expensive campaign seasons; runoff elections are further plagued by lower rates of voter turnout
  5. Single-winner plurality elections permit candidates to win with less than majority support. This is crucial for women because elected officials govern better when they have majority support. 


An election system that systematically disadvantages women will not render a reflective democracy. Therefore, in place of this single-winner plurality system, the U.S. should adopt a proportional voting system at the national level. According to our research, the best fair representation voting model for women would be one that makes use of ranked choice voting (RCV) and multi-winner districts (MWDs) to proportionally represent communities across the United States. 

You are viewing an archived page of our website, to learn more about the election reforms supported by RepresentWomen, please visit our Women Winning page.